From a points per drive perspective, the Patriots rank 29th, just ahead of the Titans, Jaguars, and Raiders.
Consider in 2013, a season considered one of the most offensively inept in the Bill Belichick-era, that the Patriots ranked 9th in the league in average yards gained per play and 8th in points scored per drive, and it's obvious the team is in crisis mode.
The team's descent into the bowels of the league will be hammered home until the Patriots rectify their problems- and it's possible that won't happen for a while. So in the meantime, let's be productive; let's talk about how the Patriots can fix their offense.
How to Fix the Running Game
It's clear that the Patriots haven't been running the ball effectively, but if the team wants to right the ship they need to find their new identity. It's painfully obvious that teams just don't respect New England's running game- and they really shouldn't. The offensive linemen have struggled to create any rushing lanes for the running backs, which means that there's no real pressure for defenses to stack the box.
That needs to change.
The Patriots are obviously struggling in pass protection, with Tom Brady being hit or pressured more than anyone else in the entire league. There's no excuse for the coaching staff to draw up gameplans that call for three passing plays in a row on opening drives. The Patriots need to spend the early part of the game grinding down defenses in order to open up play-action plays later in the game.
The team has road-graders on the line, too. Bryan Stork and Ryan Wendell are both capable run blockers, while Marcus Cannon has had success as an extra blocking tight end. The team needs to use Stevan Ridley more than Shane Vereen early in the game, as Ridley is one of the best in the league at attacking the line of scrimmage.
How to Fix the Offensive Line
The offensive line hasn't been a cohesive unit and that also lies with the coaches rotating plays every other series. The team has featured multiple offensive tackles at the offensive guard position (Marcus Cannon, Jordan Devey, Cameron Fleming) due to gross neglect on interior linemen by the front office. The results have been ugly and it's clear that the current linemen just don't have the necessary coordination in pass protection.
It's documented that there's "friction", according to Ryan Wendell, between the line and new coach Dave "Guge" DeGuglielmo, mostly due to how differently he communicates from the recently departed Dante Scarnecchia. "Guge" is louder, but he does have a background in one main focus: running the ball.
Guge's line with the Giants (04-08) ranked 2nd in the league over that time span in yards per carry. When he went to Miami from 2009-2011, he led a team that transformed from rushing the 21st most in the league (from 07-08) to rushing the fourth most in the league under his command. His 2012 season with the Jets put forward the 6th most rushes on the year.
Guge's bread-and-butter is the rushing attack and it seems questionable to not feature that strength. If the team is able to have success, it will likely lead to both more cohesion on the field, as well as in the locker room. A refocus on running the ball is best for the entire team.
Beyond rushing the ball, the team needs to sit still and figure out how to align its players and stick with the combination moving forward. With a rushing attack in mind, a line of Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell, and Sebastian Vollmer, with Marcus Cannon as the first additional blocker, makes the most sense. I'm sure Wendell's talk of friction didn't lead to much favor from the coaching staff, but he's the best run blocker the team has.
How to Fix the Passing Game
Tom Brady can't shoulder the load. Not when there are defensive players in his face on a shockingly high number of plays, and not when he's clearly not playing to form. He was creating his own ghosts while facing a terrifcally called defensive game by Chiefs coordinator (and Rex Ryan disciple) Bob Sutton, and it's clear that he doesn't trust his offensive line. And he shouldn't.
By putting forward a focus on the rushing game, teams will have to respect the playaction passes which Brady will need to manufacture time for receivers to get open. Ranking last in the league in yards per play is entirely unacceptable. Drawing up gameplans that revolve around slip screens and quick passes to the first read (always Julian Edelman or Rob Gronkowski) prevents defenses from having to spread out, and lets them collect towards the line of scrimmage, reducing the value of any possible surprise delayed handoffs.
Additionally, if the team is willing to draw up plays where Brady throws 15+ yards down the field to 5'11 Julian Edelman, then there's absolutely no excuse for not putting the 6'3 Aaron Dobson on the active roster. The team needs to realize that there is talent on the roster. Each player has a strength that needs to be featured, not bottled and squished into a pre-formed offensive package. Dobson is not Brandon Lloyd. Don't limit him by giving him those plays.
It's also increasingly evident who the Patriots weapons are on offense. Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman are producing, while Brandon LaFell has broken free in recent weeks. Instead of placing Danny Amendola in the slot and moving Edelman to the outside, the team should kick Edelman inside and place Dobson outside the numbers. Tim Wright should be earning more time on the field, and there really isn't an excuse for lack of options.
How Everything Works
The Patriots should increase their focus on running the ball, especially with Ridley, as it not only plays to the skill set of the lineman and line coach, it will also open up field space for the playaction passing game. If the Patriots are going to be taking deep shots, they should at least be throwing to their best deep target, Dobson, and it will provide the team will a full range of quality receivers at the X (outside receiver, Dobson), Y (in-line TE, Gronk), Z (movable receiver, LaFell), the slot (Edelman), and the F (off-line TE, Wright).
The playaction pass should force the defense to respect the passing game, both helping to open up more space for the rushing game, and possibly opening up space for underneath passing.
The offense will feed into itself and dictate how the game is played, instead of letting defensive pressure change how the Patriots operate. It will take weeks to fix the offense. But it's a fix that's not impossible.